The Apostle Paul was painfully aware of “so-called” ministers whose motives and methods were driven by greed. He made it a point to differentiate himself from those who were manipulative, and whose shady and unscrupulous practices brought reproach to the things of God. The same man who wrote about “the grace of giving” had to address the “dis-grace” of wolves in sheep’s clothing who preyed upon gullible, impressionable, and naïve saints.
For we are not, like so many, [like hucksters making a trade of] peddling God’s Word [shortchanging and adulterating the divine message]; but like [men] of sincerity and the purest motive, as [commissioned and sent] by God, we speak [His message] in Christ (the Messiah), in the [very] sight and presence of God. (2 Cor, 2:17, AMP)
The Apostle Peter spoke of false teachers who would cause the way of truth to be blasphemed (2 Peter 2:2), and in the next verse said, “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words.” The Message Version renders that, “They will say anything that sounds good to exploit you.”
Red Flags Indicating a “Fleecing” is About to Take Place…
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when the impression is given that as a result of giving in a specific offering, you will receive some special kind of blessing, miracle, or breakthrough that you would not otherwise be entitled to if you were simply giving to your church or supporting some other ministry. Frequently used incentives include things like: all your debts will be supernaturally paid off, you will receive a needed healing, or your children or spouse will get saved… all because you gave money. Again, watch out for the “token disclaimer.” You will probably be told, “Now you can’t buy a miracle, this is a matter of faith!” Nevertheless, the specifically prescribed way you release your faith is by giving money in this particular offering. Decades ago, Gordon Lindsay wrote, “Perhaps the most serious scheme to raise money is one promoted by a certain religious adventurer who promises the people that God has given him the gift to make them wealthy, if only they will give him a good offering. Such assertions approach to the crime of blasphemy.” **
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when “specially anointed” oil or prayer cloths are used in conjunction with offerings. While cloths (Acts 19:11-12) and anointing with oil (James 5:14-15) are definitely mentioned positively in the New Testament, caution must be exercised to ensure that these things don’t become gimmicks to initiate an appeal for funds. In some situations, these are initially offered for free by certain ministries, but strong financial appeals soon follow. Likewise, some have offered “prophecies” for a donation, and in some cases, the first “prophecy” is just a teaser. Guess what you have to do to get the more detailed “prophecy” that will really release God’s blessings in your life? That’s right: send more money. No one is so audacious as to say outright that they are selling the blessings of God, but when all the veneer and spiritual lingo is removed, that is essentially what’s happening.
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when any type of ministry diminishes your sense of priesthood. Instead of you having your own relationship with God in which you can exercise faith, use wisdom, and be led by the Spirit yourself, you are dependent on the minister with the “special prosperity anointing” to direct you into receiving your blessing. Legitimate ministry supports and reinforces your sense of priesthood before God; it doesn’t create an unhealthy dependency on some “super minister” who, in essence, becomes your link to God and God’s blessings. First Timothy 2:5 says, “…there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” Legitimate ministry cultivates your dependency on God, His Word, and your ability to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Unhealthy ministry promotes a dependency on some specially anointed minister, who alone can facilitate God’s blessings coming to you (especially when your faith is “activated” and “released” by the financial seed you sow into “God’s servant”). Intimidation may even be used, projecting to the listener that he is being disobedient if he does not participate, or is being “religious” if he questions the supposedly infallible word of God’s anointed servant.
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when marvelous testimonies are offered from individuals who experienced extraordinary miracles as a result of giving to a particular ministry. The implication is that if you give, then you will also experience the same kind of results. I’ve noticed on TV commercials for weight loss products that a testimony is often given in which a person shares their story of drastic weight loss via that particular diet plan. At the bottom of the television screen in small letters is typically the phrase, “Results Not Typical.” Perhaps that is a legal requirement for secular advertising, but it would be refreshing to hear a minister acknowledge that most people who give are not going to find an unexpected $75,000 check in the mail or get their house miraculously paid off because they gave in that one “special” offering. It is also unfortunate that some ministries have resorted to brochures and “infomercials” that feature pictures of mansions, swimming pools, luxury sports cars, diamond jewelry, gold bars, and huge stacks of cash. Such tasteless promotions (in the name of the Lord) shamelessly appeal to greed and remind me of Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding, “…men who are corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, who imagine that godliness or righteousness is a source of profit [a moneymaking business, a means of livelihood]. From such withdraw” (1 Timothy 6:5, Amplified).
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when the minister suggests a donation amount based on a particular Bible verse or through the use of numerology. For example, after preaching on Isaiah 55:11, a minister suggests that if the listener needs a miracle, he should give an offering of $55.11. It’s interesting that ministers who use this technique are far more likely to preach from Psalm 107:20 than they are from Psalm 1:1. After all, an offering of $107.20 is much better than an offering of $1.01. Offerings based on some numerological interpretation of the Bible are almost always the result of human manipulation, not divine inspiration. I would have no problem if, for instance, on a church’s 50th Anniversary, the leadership of the church suggested that everyone prayerfully consider giving an extra $5, $50, or $500 to do what they can toward some special project. However this should only be a suggestion. It becomes problematic when the “highly anointed minister” plays “the Lord told me” card, and authoritatively proclaims that everyone who gives $500 or $5,000 is going to receive some type of blessing that can only be accessed by giving this particular divinely decreed amount. That’s when it becomes manipulative and coercive. Always beware of anyone who endeavors to prophesy money out of your pocket – and into theirs!
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when dates of certain Jewish feasts or other Old Testament events are used to promote special offerings in the New Testament era. Since most of us are New Testament believers from non-Jewish backgrounds, these days are not to govern our walk with God (Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16-17). In writing to a congregation of mixed background (Jewish and Gentile), Paul indicated that there should be tolerance and respect when it comes to background issues and personal convictions (Romans 14:1-9), but there is no New Testament basis for proclaiming that God will especially bless “Old Testament-based” offerings in the Church age.
IT SHOULD BE A RED FLAG when a message is peppered with not-so-subtle hints about how God has blessed people who have given to the minister or his ministry. Those types of hints (to borrow the terminology of fundraisers) are called “greasing the chute.” In other words, it is psychologically conditioning the people to give. It should also be of concern when excessive time is spent by ministers talking about all the wealth and material blessings that they have received. Ministers are called to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), not to parade their possessions. Paul said that love, “…is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily” (1 Corinthians 13:4, AMP). Paul also said, “…our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:5, Message). God never ordained that ministers have a “rock star” or “celebrity” mentality; we are called to be servants. We are certainly not called to manipulate people for our own personal gain or benefit.
Staying With God’s Plan
We need to stay strongly committed to the word of God and remain positively focused. I am unashamedly in favor of tithing, giving, and biblical prosperity. If every believer in the Body of Christ would simply tithe to their local church (give 10% of their income) and give offerings as the Lord leads them, the work of God would be wonderfully supplied and progress in tremendous ways.
The Bible teaches us that there are blessings associated with giving, and that God “…has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant” (Psalm 35:27). Churches, missionaries, and ministries need finances to operate and to fulfill the Great Commission. The Body of Christ must be strong, and see through the clutter and distractions of human imperfections as we walk out God’s original purpose for our lives! The fact that some have operated in questionable or inappropriate methods should never keep us from believing His Word and doing the right thing.
How Should Believers Give?
Believers are to give PERSONALLY. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul described the great generosity of the Macedonians, and he said (verse 5), “…they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.” Giving wasn’t just a religious ritual, but it was a reflection of a life totally given to God.
Believers are to give SYSTEMATICALLY. Paul said (1 Corinthians 16:2), “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside…”Systematic and regular giving produces stability in churches and promotes maturity and responsibility in believers.
Believers are to give PROPORTIONATELY. If you read more of 1 Corinthians 16:2, it says, “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper…” Giving was to be in proportion to how much the people had prospered.
Believers are to give GENEROUSLY. Proverbs 11:25 says, “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” Keep in mind that this doesn’t just apply to money. We can also be generous with our time, our talents, our encouragement of others, etc.
Believers are to give WILLINGLY. In Exodus 35:5, Moses said, “Take from among you an offering to the LORD. Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the LORD…”
Believers are to give PURPOSEFULLY. One of my favorite verses on giving has always been 2 Corinthians 9:7, which says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart…” Giving should be deliberate and intentional, not because of pressure, hype, or manipulation.
Believers are to give CHEERFULLY. The last part of 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “…for God loves a cheerful giver.” The word cheerful here is the Greek word hilaros, from which we get our English word hilarious. Giving truly should be a joy!
Believers are to give RESPONSIBLY. There is a principle of responsibility when it comes to finances. We need to be responsible not only with the 10%, but also with the 90%. We are to be responsible to tithe to our local church and we are responsible to see to it that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is carried out.
Believers are to give EXPECTANTLY. Many Scriptures (e.g., Ecclesiastes 11:1-3, Luke 6:38, etc.) address the blessing connected with giving, and we should give with a heart of expectancy.
Believers are to give WORSHIPFULLY. True giving is far more than a financial transaction; it is an act of worship unto God. In Deuteronomy 26:10-11, God’s people were instructed (regarding their giving), “Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the LORD your God has given to you and your house…”
**Lindsay, Gordon, God’s 20th Century Barnabas, (Dallas: Christ for the Nations, Reprint 1982), 276. The Leader’s Attitude Toward Money